by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The idea that women need abortions for “mental health” reasons was delivered a serious blow this month by a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry that found women were actually less prone to mental disorders during pregnancy.
“We found that with the exception of major depressive disorder among postpartum women, rates of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders are not significantly higher, and in some cases were even lower, in pregnant and postpartum women than in non-pregnant women of childbearing age,” study author Carlos Blanco, MD told Medscape Psychiatry.
The study was designed to provide accurate national information on the mental health of women in the United States for the purpose of developing better prevention and intervention programs.
The authors used data from the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which included 14,549 women between the ages of 18 to 50 years old. Of those women, 1,524 were currently pregnant or had been pregnant within the previous 12 months, and 13,025 non-pregnant women.
During the interview process, the women were diagnosed as having or not having a substance-use disorder (drug or alcohol abuse or dependence, or nicotine dependence), a mood disorder (major depressive disorder, dysthymia, or bipolar disorder), or an anxiety disorder (panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobia, or generalized anxiety disorder). They were also asked if they had ever been told by a healthcare professional that they had schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder.
The 12-month prevalence of psychiatric disorders found among the group was 25 percent of past-year pregnant women versus 30 percent of the non-pregnant women.
The authors list four major results of the study:
First, although rates of substance use and mood and anxiety disorders were high in women of childbearing age, pregnancy per se was not associated with an increased risk for these disorders; it was linked with significantly lower rates of alcohol and drug use other than illicit drugs and slightly lower rates of illicit drug use.
Second, the risk for major depressive disorder may be increased during the postpartum periods, whereas the risk for any mood disorder appears to be decreased in currently pregnant women.
Third, pregnant women who were more vulnerable to psychiatric disorders included those who were younger (ages 18 – 25 years); unmarried; exposed to traumatic or stressful events in the previous 12 months, or to pregnancy complications; or who had overall poor health.
Fourth, rates of psychiatric treatment among pregnant women with psychiatric disorders were very low.
The study did find that the risk for major depressive disorders may be increased during the post-partum period, prompting the authors to stress the need for urgent action to increase detection and treatment of psychiatric disorders among this population.
Because these findings are novel, researchers say more study is needed.
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